Surrey

Leith Hill oil test protest: Bailiffs begin evictions

Protesters at Leith Hill, Surrey
Image caption Up to 30 protesters are believed to have joined the demonstration on land earmarked for oil exploration

Bailiffs have begun to evict protesters from land near a proposed exploratory oil borehole in the Surrey Hills.

Safety experts say the tunnels built by the group on the land at Leith Hill, near Dorking, are "a death trap".

The protesters, who moved in last October, oppose oil exploration and are concerned about damage to the environmentally-sensitive area.

Europa Gas and Oil says eviction orders were served in advance.

Chief executive Hugh Mackay said: "They have had ample time to leave the sites. We have now chosen to evict them from the site and the eviction commenced at first light this morning."

Image caption Protesters have built a "fortress" inside their camp

Bailiffs moved on to the site in the early hours and removed four people.

Peter Faulding, chief executive of Specialist Group International, which is leading the operation to clear the site, said he did not expect all protesters to be removed until Thursday.

He said: "It's really unstable. It's a death trap. I haven't seen tunnels like this since the days of Swampy [the protester he removed from tunnels under the A30 in Devon in 1996]."

Image caption Peter Faulding said the tunnel network was a death trap

A woman acting as a legal observer for the protesters, who gave her name as Amanda, said they were trying to "stave off" the oil company for as long as possible.

"Obviously, everyone knew eviction would happen at one point, but I think everyone is... trying to draw things out because planning permissions that have already been given only last for three years, and they are due to expire next year," she said.

Image caption Experts are trying to make sure a tunnel network under the site is safe

Up to 30 people have been occupying the site, although the number there when bailiffs moved in is unknown.

Surrey Police, which is attending the eviction, said: "This is a civil matter where the leaseholders and bailiffs had primacy. Police are in the vicinity to prevent a breach of the peace or criminal offences."

There have been no arrests so far.

Image caption Police have been on standby at the site in case of problems

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